Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Green Palo Alto, less-green farmlands, more-green ring tones, and a blog update

A grab-bag of news today:

Palo Alto commits to an eco-friendly plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing sprawl, and reducing monster mansions in the hillsides, will be a helpful step in fighting global warming.

Farm produce buyers link wildlife restoration to contamination fears, despite a lack of evidence. The E-coli problems are unlikely to trace back to wildlife. Hopefully these concerns will be managed appropriately.

Your cell phone can ring you with the call of the wild. Our endangered local animal, the California red-legged frog, can be your ring tone available for free at a conservation website.

And a brief update about this blog: spammers are trying to post unrelated comments selling products on this blog, so we've disabled the comments feature. We're very interested in hearing your (real) comments though - send them to brian at greenfoothills.org or holly at greenfoothills.org.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Some successes are easy

I recently attended a meeting intended to help advise the new incoming mayor of San Jose about environmental initiatives he could take. The group was trying to limit the recommendations to a small number of items. At the end of the meeting, I tossed out as a last comment that the next General Plan revision should deal with the large land areas south of the city, near Almaden Reservoir and elsewhere. Those areas had been annexed during the foolish, expansionist years of the 1960s and 1970s but are not candidates for real incorporation into the city. City staff attending the meeting agreed, suggesting those places be rezoned from a residential to open-space designation (not exactly what I had in mind, but still a vast improvement). General agreement around the room, and the idea made it onto the list.

I think there's a good chance that this will go forward and eliminate some future developer's effort to put suburbs on hillsides. Something starting with a last-minute suggestion.


Thursday, December 7, 2006

Comments on the Castro Valley Ranch DEIR

CGF submitted two sets of comments on the proposed subdivision of the 8,000 acre Castro Valley Ranch, both of them reprinted below. This is a potentially dangerous project, so we'll need to watch it carefully.


December 6, 2006

Rob Eastwood, Senior Planner
Santa Clara County Planning Office
70 West Hedding Street, East Wing, 7th Floor
San Jose, CA 95110

Re: Comments on Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision DEIR

Dear Rob;

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments on the Castro Valley Ranch Subdivision DEIR.

Missing analysis of growth-inducing impacts within the project.

The DEIR as currently written provides insufficient basis for the County to decide whether to approve the subdivision. The elephant in the room, but not in this DEIR, is that the 16 lot subdivision and road construction will induce the growth of future subdivisions. The less-than one full page discussion of growth inducing impacts of the project (DEIR pg. 154) entirely fails to disclose this impact. It says “Any future development on the project site would be governed by the land use policies and densities of development prescribed in the County General Plan, which is not proposed to change. These land use policies will limit the number of lots that can be created by subdivision each year and the minimum lot size.” The issue, however, is that the paved and extended road, together with lot line adjustments that facilitate future access and future subdivisions across the entire property, induce the possible growth in the form of new future subdivisions that could not occur without the newly configured parcels and new road infrastructure. It is the change to Castro Ranch created by this project that induces growth, the change that many groups are clearly worried about, and that effect is overlooked in the one chance for it to be analyzed.

The DEIR not only fails to disclose the growth inducing impacts, it fails to adequately describe the impacts of how much future subdivision can occur on Castro Ranch because of the new road and lot line changes. The failure to do a slope-density analysis, combined with the failure to indicate how future subdivision cannot feasibly occur without the road extension, means the scope of the impact has not been described.

These issues are the primary, but not exclusive, impacts from the proposed project. The “what’s next” issue is the shoe that we all are waiting and expecting will drop at Castro Ranch. A willful decision to ignore this concern that everyone acknowledges as existing is not only wrong but also a failure to comply with CEQA’s requirement to disclose growth-inducing impacts. For these and other reasons the DEIR as written cannot serve as a basis for the County’s decision over this project.

Other impacts and comments:

Contrary to the discussion on page 154 saying the project won’t provide access to any surrounding areas that lack access, it will provide alternative and improved access to properties served by Whitehurst Road, giving those properties a means to access Highway 101 (by agreement with Castro Ranch landowners) while avoiding Highway 152 traffic. A separate growth inducing impact will be from providing secondary emergency access for Whitehurst Road properties that could be a condition for future development there.

Because the lot line adjustment is treated as a subdivision, approval of this project is equivalent to improving a tentative map, or a parcel map for which a tentative map was not required. Government Code section 66474(e) states such approval is impermissible if the design of the subdivision or the proposed improvements are likely to cause substantial environmental damage or substantially and avoidably injure fish or wildlife or their habitat. The on-site and off-site growth-inducing impacts are likely to cause such impacts.

The DEIR raises several hydrology concerns (DEIR pg 52-55). It fails to analyze potential increases in impervious surfaces from residential development at Castro Valley. This potential increase can be analyzed using similar size project and recent permits to determine an estimate of impervious area from driveways and house sizes. Any change to runoff can be cumulatively significant in the Pajaro watershed, a stream that is impacted by erosion and sedimentation. Compliance with NPDES permits is insufficient to avoid cumulative impacts for sedimentation or other pollutants. NPDES permits set minimum project size and maximum cost levels for mitigations. Unless the County requires a no-net increase in peak flows, it has failed to analyze impacts that could be significant either individually or cumulatively. Reliance on compliance with an NPDES waste discharge requirement is insufficient in and of itself; CEQA mandates that all cumulative impacts be considered and NPDES requirements do not attempt to eliminate all such impacts.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt

(sent via email)

Dear Rob;

I would like to add the following comments to Committee for Green Foothills’ previously-submitted comments:

First, as with other County EIRS, the DEIR fails to analyze the cumulative impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions from the project, particularly from anticipated residential development and use. The DEIR does briefly mention the use of petroleum-based fuels for road construction will contribute greenhouse gases (DEIR at 153) but does no analysis of whether this impact is cumulatively significant, and ignores the greenhouse gas impact from increased road use. Carbon dioxide is the main pollutant causing global warming, which will have significant environmental impacts. The lack of a regulatory standard for carbon dioxide does not mean that it can be ignored, and other agencies take global warming effects into account. See, e.g., "Air Quality Analysis Guidance Handbook" (“The SCAQMD adopted a policy on global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion on April 6, 1990, that committed the SCAQMD to consider global impacts in its rule making and in drafting revisions to the AQMP”) available at www.aqmd.gov/ceqa/handbook/CH3_rev.doc.

Second, without a conservation easement granted to an appropriate agency prohibiting use of the road by persons attempting to get access from Whitehurst Road, there is no guarantee that the project will not promote access to other properties (DEIR at 154).

Third, the DEIR failed to analyze threats that increased tree harvesting would occur as a result of splitting the property up for estate purposes, or from improved road access. Such harvest would be an indirect impact effecting species habitat and hydrology.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

-Brian Schmidt

Monday, December 4, 2006

Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch

Lennie Roberts, CGF's San Mateo County Legislative Advocate, attended yesterday's hearing at Camp Jones Gulch about the YMCA's plans to log part of the camp. One of the issues has been how best to reduce the threat of fire within the camp. Lennie presented this information about the qualities of a redwood forest that make it less prone to fire, and the impacts of logging when the forest canopy is opened up and the forest floor dries out.

Commercial Timber Harvesting and Fire Hazards at Camp Jones Gulch

The NTMP (Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan) for Camp Jones Gulch proposes commercial logging in perpetuity. Up to 40% of the trees 18 inches and diameter will be harvested every 15-20 years. Old-growth redwood and Douglas fir trees in two groves are not proposed for logging, unless they are determined to be “hazards”. However, cutting of up to 20% of the second-growth trees within these areas is allowed by the Plan. The Plan can be amended in the future, without public comment.

Commercial Timber Harvesting will increase fire hazards

Redwood forests are dependent upon the cool, foggy coastal climate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mature redwood and Douglas fir trees create a canopy of continuous shade that discourages fire-prone shrubs, trees and other sun-preferring vegetation from growing. Summer fog drip replenishes water in the creeks, and maintains moist conditions that keep fire hazards low. In San Mateo County, up to half of the annual precipitation recorded in redwood forests comes from summer fog drip.

Cutting of the largest trees in a commercial timber harvest opens up the tree canopy and exposes the forest floor to direct sunlight. The resulting hotter, drier conditions on the forest floor increase the fire hazard. Logging debris and slash (tree branches, tops, and brush) from cutting of timber, up to two feet deep, is left on the forest floor, adding to the fire hazard. Increased sunlight encourages the growth of weedy and fire-prone species such as tan oak, California lilac (ceanothus), and broom. These fast growing shrubs and trees become “ladder fuels” which enable a fire to spread up into the canopy of the forest. As the forest recovers and the tree canopy grows back, the sun-preferring weedy species become shaded out and eventually die, adding to the fire hazard.

An additional hazard associated with the Camp Jones Gulch NTMP is the proposed use of herbicides on tan oaks. Tan oaks are not considered desirable in a commercially managed forest. They invade recently logged areas, and will re-sprout vigorously if cut. The NTMP proposes to use a method called “hack and squirt” in which herbicides are squirted into a cut in each tree trunk, killing the tree. However, unlike many other species, the leaves on dead tan oaks do not fall off. The leafy dead standing trees become virtual torches - one of the “ladder fuels” that the YMCA is concerned about.

Note: In its review of a 1976 Timber Harvest Plan for the Jones Gulch property, California Division of Forestry stated that the fire hazard will be increased for a period of 4 to 5 years rather than 1 or two years as the YMCA had predicted. In fact, the hazard is much greater than that due to the abundance of brushy shrubs and trees growing back after each timber harvest cycle. Yet, one of the YMCA’s stated purposes of this NTMP is to reduce fire hazards.

There are alternatives to Commercial Timber Harvesting

The YMCA should adopt and implement a strategic fire plan. This would include control of vegetation along Pescadero Creek Road, and the Camps’s ingress/egress road. Within 100 feet of the buildings in the developed area of the Camp, the YMCA should maintain 100 feet of defensible space required by State law. Within the next 200 feet, and other strategic locations such as ridge tops, the Camp should implement shaded fuel breaks. There are funding sources to assist landowners with fuel reduction, and there are potential partner organizations to implement fuel reduction programs.

-Lennie Roberts, Legislative Advocate

Monday, November 27, 2006

The son of Prop. 90

Via an email from Greenbelt Alliance, we learned that backers of the defeated Proposition 90, which would have decimated new land use protections, may try again with a new measure.

According to the article, the backers are now focusing on prohibiting eminent domain for private projects, rather than trying to block new environmental protections. If true, the new measure would be less relevant to CGF's work, but we'd have to look at the details to be certain.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Success with MidCoast Local Coastal Plan Amendment!

I am very pleased to announce that today the san Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported Resolution #4 as the means by which they will submit the LCP Amendment package to the Coastal Commission. This vote signals the Board's willingness to work collaboratively with the Commission. They have agreed to request and consider adopting any of the Commission's suggested modifications to those Amendments that are found to be non-compliance, as submitted, with the Coastal Act. The Amendments that are found to be in compliance will be certified as submitted. By rejecting an "all or nothing" approach, the Board has demonstrated its commitment to a successful outcome for this seven-year, community initiated project.

The Board followed the course of action that Committee for Green Foothills and many of you recommended. Thanks so much for sending your comments to Board members over the past two days. It made a difference. In addition to adopting Resolution #4, the Board followed CGF's other recommendation and directed that all non-LCP Amendments (namely, those that do not require Coastal Commission certification) be implemented right away. This means that the lot merger program, the formation of a flooding and drainage committee and release of the Midcoast Groundwater Study will not be delayed.

The LCP Update is not yet finished but we reached a milestone today.

Thanks again for staying with this process over the past seven years and speaking out -- clearly, eloquently and often -- in support of our Coast. While we did not prevail on all of the issues, we have ensured the adoption of stronger, more protective policies in many areas. Please continue to communicate, motivate and participate!

April Vargas, Board of Directors

Monday, November 13, 2006

MidCoast LCP Amendments before San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, November 14th

April Vargas of the CGF Board of Directors submitted these comments to the Board of Supervisors concerning what method the Board uses to seek approval of the Amendments by the Coastal Commission, who needs to provide the final approval.

Committee for Green Foothills Comments on
Midcoast LCP Update Project
County Counsel Memo November 14, 2006

County Counsel has identified four alternative forms of the resolution submitting the proposed changes to the County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) to the California Coastal Commission.

Committee for Green Foothills supports Resolution No. 4 (Separate Amendments, Modification Possible) for the following reasons:

* Resolution Nos. 1 and 2 would involve an “all or nothing” approach to certification of the LCP Amendments. The entire package would either be certified or denied. While it is likely that most of the proposed LCP Amendments will be certified by the Coastal Commission, some may not. It would not be in the county’s best interest to risk a denial of the entire LCP amendment package if this is the case.

* Resolution No. 3 would allow the Commission to certify each Amendment separately, which would not risk denial of the entire package. However, the Commission would be precluded from suggesting modifications. Assuming the county would want to revise the Amendment so it could be certified, it would be helpful to know what modifications would meet the Coastal Act requirements.

* Resolution No. 4 allows the separate certification of Amendments that meet the requirements of the Coastal Act, and gives the County the additional benefit of the Commission’s suggestions for modifications. The County does not have to adopt those suggested modifications, and can always suggest other revisions, or provide additional background information that supports the County’s Amendment as originally submitted. Resolution No 4 allows for a process of give and take, and collaboration between the county and the Coastal Commission which reflects the partnership between our local government and the Coastal Commission).

Resolution No. 4 provides the most flexible approach to the certification process and will honor the extensive, seven-year public process that produced the set of Amendments to be certified. Hundreds of county residents, numerous staff members, the Planning Commission and your Board have all devoted countless hours in good faith efforts to draft essential changes to our Local Coastal Plan. These revisions have been crafted to address current conditions within the Midcoast area. Underlying this whole process is the requirement that these revisions meet the standards of Chapter Three of the Coastal Act. Resolution 4 provides the most effective method for meeting these requirements and we urge the Board to adopt it.

We also encourage the Board to adopt modifications that will allow the Non-LCP items to become effective immediately. County staff has proposed a comprehensive and balanced process for implementation of the substandard lot merger program and there is no reason to delay on this or any of the other Non-LCP items.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Don't forget to go out and vote!

CGF sent the Action Alert below to remind people of issues on tomorrow's ballot. For more information, you can also see our earlier Action Alert, here.


Dear Friends,

I’m sure you’ve already received many reminders to get out and vote in tomorrow’s election. I can’t remember a time when there are more measures on the ballot with the potential to impact the things we care about most: open space, park lands, clean air and water. The biggest concern now is that a low voter turnout could make the difference between winning and losing some of these crucial measures. Please take the time to vote tomorrow, your vote does make a difference! We wanted to remind you of the endorsements the Committee for Green Foothills’ board of directors has made this election season:

* Yes on State Proposition 84, the parks bond measure that provides funding for open space and parkland acquisition, watershed restoration, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and flood control.

* No on State Proposition 90, the “eminent domain reform bill” which is the most far reaching measure on the ballot with the potential to stop all environmental protection measures. If passed it would effectively abolish the passage and enforcement of basic laws that protect the environment.

* Yes on San Mateo County Measure A to fund our parks “for the future” with a small 1/8 cent sales tax increase, money that could be used in city and county parks for anything from acquisition to maintenance to park programming.

* Yes on Santa Clara County Measure A to protect against sprawl paving over our hillsides and agricultural lands.

Three local ballot measures in San Mateo County also threaten open space areas; if you live in Menlo Park, Pacifica, or Brisbane, your vote is needed to:

* Oppose Measure J, in Menlo Park, an advisory measure that asks voters whether the City should proceed with a major sports complex at Bayfront Park.

* Oppose Measure B in Brisbane that would authorize building housing in the Guadalupe Valley Quarry.

* Oppose Measure L in Pacifica that would authorize a zoning change to allow housing in the former Rockaway Quarry.

Many thanks for speaking up for open space!

Holly Van Houten
Executive Director

Friday, November 3, 2006

Letter to San Jose requesting updated fiscal analysis

We submitted the following letter to the Coyote Valley Task Force, and we'll just hope it gets some results.

October 30, 2006

Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force

Re: Need for an accurate update of the Draft Fiscal Analysis

Dear Members of the CVSP Task Force:

The Committee for Green Foothills submitted several comments about the Draft Fiscal Analysis for Coyote Valley that came out earlier this year, and we understand that the City’s consultants are revising their analysis. We repeat our request that all our comments are specifically addressed in a “Response to Comments” format similar to that used in EIRs. Equally important, we urge the City to require updated house pricing information as part of the analysis, rather than rely upon the same starting price information used in the April Draft.

As you recall, the Draft assumes house prices and that are the basis for residential taxes will increase 3% over and above inflation every year for over 50 years, while assuming that costs of providing services will grow much more slowly. We already can see this is wrong in the short term – 2006 prices have not increased at the rate the analysis expected, and there is no reason for 2007 to be different. If the revised Draft does not update the house price information, it will begin analysis with information already known to be incorrect. Even in the nearly-impossible event that the long-term expectations of the Draft are correct for every year after 2007, the current price correction should lower housing revenue projections by around 5%. That should be reflected in the consultant analysis.

Furthermore, there is likely to be a significant time gap between the revised analysis and final City Council consideration of Coyote Valley. When the issue reaches the City Council, there should be one more revision of the house price numbers with the updated information at that time. Neither of our requested updates should require much work – just plug the revised numbers into the existing model, and run the projections into the future. There is no reason not to provide the Task Force and City Council with the most current information.

As you may also recall, the Committee for Green Foothills did not consider the Draft’s revenue projections to be credible. New information over the last six months reinforces the idea that housing prices cannot forever increase faster than income, the underpinning of the Draft’s rosy scenario. We hope this problem will be addressed in the revision.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sometimes, it's simple

Yesterday, I attended a "Yes on Measure A" rally, complete with a lot of "Yes on Measure A" signs. Afterwards, I walked back to my car as a one-man parade, with a sign held high in each hand.

A man stopped me on the sidewalk.

"What's that sign about?"

"It's supporting Measure A in Santa Clara County, which protects rural areas outside of cities by limiting the amount of new development that can happen there."

He paused a moment.

"That's a good thing to do. They shouldn't be putting lots of houses up in the hills."

It's a pretty straightforward message - I just wish we had a chance to have a similar conversation with every voter in the County.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Letter to Sunnyvale City Council about Measure A

We sent the following letter on Tuesday to the Sunnyvale City Council urging support for Measure A. They ultimately decided to take no position, not because they disagreed with it (mostly they support it), but because they felt it wasn't a city-level issue. As you can see from our letter, we disagree.



October 24, 2006

Sunnyvale City Council

Re: Sunnyvale General Plan Policies that support taking an official position endorsing Measure A, the Land Conservation Initiative

Dear Members of the City Council;

We understand that you have already heard a great deal about Measure A, the Land Conservation Initiative, enough to convince six council members to endorse it individually. Rather than repeat the many reasons why Measure A is a good idea, we wish to address the recommendation by City staff to not take a position on the Measure.

Staff does not make this recommendation based on whether Measure A is a good or bad idea, but rather on the assertion “Generally, staff only recommends a position on a ballot measure if there is an existing City policy on the issue or significant impact on the City.”

In fact, multiple General Plan policies address the issue, and protecting the City from Los Angeles-style sprawl is a significant beneficial impact on the City.

A cursory review of Sunnyvale General Plan policies shows several relevant provisions:


Policy Goal R1 references specific goals and action statements that clearly apply to Measure A:

Policy R1.1 Advocate the City’s interests to regional agencies that make land use and transportation system decisions that affect Sunnyvale.

Policy R1.2 Support coordinated regional transportation system planning and improvements.

Policy R1.3 Promote integrated and coordinated local land use and transportation planning.

Action Statements

R1.3.1 Participate in intergovernmental activities related to regional and sub-regional land use and transportation planning in order to advance the City’s interests.

R1.3.2 Promote shorter commute trips and ease congestion by advocating that all communities provide housing and employment opportunities.

R1.3.3 Monitor significant land use and transportation decisions pending in other communities to ensure that Sunnyvale is not adversely affected.

Because Measure A stops sprawl that could adversely affect Sunnyvale’s interest in sound land use and effective transportation, the City’s policies require support.

Other City policies also apply:

Policy 3.1A.1c. Support legislation which would enhance the availability of adequate water from Sunnyvale's existing sources of supply.

Water conservation 3.1B.2d. Coordinate planning with local, state and federal agencies.

And policies on creek protection:

Surface Runoff Sub-Element

Goals and Policies

Protect Beneficial Uses of Creeks and South San Francisco Bay

Goal 3.4A. Assure the reasonable protection of beneficial uses of creeks and South San Francisco Bay, established in the Regional Board's Basin Plan, and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Policy 3.4A.2 Comply with regulatory requirements and participate in processes which may result in modifications to regulatory requirements.

3.4A.2c. Review proposed changes in regulatory requirements and comment as appropriate.

Measure A protects water quality and water quantity.

For all these reasons, and the general beneficial impact Measure A will have on County land use that is crucial for keeping Sunnyvale part of an area that does not resemble Southern California, we urge the City to endorse Measure A.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Getting information on the Santa Clara County HCP

Want more information on the Santa Clara County Habitat Conservation Plan? CGF has been heavily involved and we'll stay involved, and it's a big issue for the County.

To see what they're planning, go to their website.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Seems like everyone hates Proposition 90, but it's still very dangerous

Last night I attended a debate between the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau and the Yes On Measure A Campaign, something CGF strongly supports. Both sides did a good job (clearly we think Measure A is a great idea, though).

What struck me was how even the Farm Bureau stated they oppose Proposition 90, something CGF also opposes. In retrospect, it makes sense - Prop. 90 will likely block "Right to Farm" ordinances if it passes.

Proposition 90 is an under-the-radar disaster that has very little to do with the eminent domain issue it pretends to be about. The concern is that people won't see the trap, and will pass it. We certainly hope that won't happen.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The problem with Coyote Valley, in one paragraph

I've been struggling to state clearly why Coyote Valley is such a mess of a proposal under the both current and future economic situations. Holly came up with this definition in preparation for materials to present at Nature's Inspirations, which I think is excellent:

The stated reason to build Coyote Valley is to bring needed jobs to San Jose while providing some housing for people employed in Coyote Valley. Currently the Bay Area has massive office vacancies, so there is no demand for new office construction. However, if all the office space planned for development there were actually built, there wouldn’t be enough housing. Developing new office space this far south of the city central just serves to exacerbate sprawl south through Gilroy, San Benito County and the Central Valley.

Now to get that understanding through to the decision-makers....


Monday, October 9, 2006

A victory for environmental education about the Bay

In August, CGF wrote to the Water District, asking them to help sponsor the KTEH public television documentary, Saving the Bay. We've just received a letter from the Water District Board of Directors saying they're providing sponsorship.

CGF has a long history of working on San Francisco Bay protection issues, most recently concerning Bayfront Park in San Mateo County. It's great that Bay protection will get the attention it deserves, and kudos to the Water District for making that possible.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

A very nice present from Mountain View Rotary Club

I gave a presentation on Tuesday to the Mountain View Rotary Club about the Land Conservation Initiative, and extremely important ballot item supported by Committee for Green Foothills. At the end of my presentation, the Rotary Club thanked me by giving a donation in my honor to the "Polio Plus" program that sponsors vaccination in Asia and Africa. The broader vaccination program is expected to eliminate this terrible disease entirely, in just a few years.

This was a great, and totally unexpected, gift.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Interesting news items

A few items of interest to CGF members and friends:

A local television report on the Measure A campaign.

House prices increased 1.6% in Santa Clara County last year, which is a decrease when inflation is considered. San Jose's fiscal analysis for Coyote Valley depends on prices increasing 3% above inflation consistently, and a shortfall at the beginning can significantly increase projected "temporary" deficits.

Direct-to-consumers sale of meat by ranchers is a new idea gaining ground. None of the ranches mentioned are in Santa Clara County, but there's no reason why our County shouldn't be involved.

An article describes increasing interest in incorporating San Martin to stop inappropriate development between Gilroy and Morgan Hill. This seems like a good idea in a lot of ways, although we have to watch for pitfalls too.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Comments on LAFCo Agricultural Mitigation Policy

The Santa Clara County LAFCo is developing a policy on requiring preserving farmlands somewhere in Santa Clara County to mitigate for the loss of farmlands when cities expand. It's a good start, and CGF provided the comments below.


(We provided similar comments to San Jose for its policies, here.)


September 18, 2006

Ms. Neelima Palacherla
Santa Clara County LAFCo
70 West Hedding St, 11th Floor, East Wing
San Jose, CA 95110

Re: LAFCo Agricultural Mitigation Policy

Dear Ms. Palacherla;

The Committee for Green Foothills submits the following comments regarding the proposed LAFCo Agricultural Mitigation Policy:

· CEQA and good policy require the highest feasible level of agriculture preservation be achieved when annexation results in the loss of farmland. CEQA requires the imposition of feasible mitigation measures that substantially lessen adverse impacts. Public Resources Code sections 21081(a)(1); 21081(a)(3). While preserving farmland does partially mitigate for the loss, a 1:1 ratio clearly does not eliminate the significant impact, as the net effect is a 50% loss of farmland. Accordingly, LAFCo staff should review policies at other LAFCos and at the least, it should adopt the highest ratio of preserved-to-lost farmland currently in use.

· Even if LAFCo determines that preserving an amount of land equal to the amount of lost farmland is adequate, a 1:1 ratio is inadequate because it assumes the program will work perfectly. In the real world, mitigations are not perfect, programs and easements are often not followed or violated, or simply become infeasible. Wetland restoration mitigations frequently use 2:1 or 3:1 ratios or higher to account for the possibility of failure. A 20% addition to the preservation ratio (a 1.2:1 ratio) would provide some assurance that an equal amount of land will be preserved, and should form the lowest preservation ratio considered by LAFCo.

· LAFCo must retain as a feature of the ag mitigation policy that it has the legal ability to enforce the ag mitigation requirements. Staff’s proposal for conditional approval of an annexation, with mitigation preceding issuance of a Certificate of Completion, satisfies this requirement. Any alternative proposal that modifies this in a way that removes LAFCo enforcement ability will turn this whole process into a sham exercise. It is incumbent upon anyone proposing an alternative to show how staff can feasibly enforce mitigation requirements.

· Extending the conditional approval period to longer than two years may be an appropriate method to merge LAFCo enforcement ability with timelines that landowners may need to arrange mitigation. An expedited renewal process may also help resolve problems where landowners may not be able to meet deadlines. Tracking these projects over time will require additional LAFCo resources however, and fees should be imposed for purposes of cost recovery.

· Complaints that the staff proposal conflicts with long-term planning for city expansion are invalid. In the first place, annexations that provide space for land that the cities will not use for decades are already disallowed. Cities remain free to develop expansion plans that project decades in the future – however, any annexation proposal might have to be a subsidiary component of the city’s plan, and could only be considered when it is timely. This is the current policy, and the ag mitigation proposal is not a change in kind. If Coyote Valley landowners, as a hypothetical example, complained they could not arrange to buy easements when development of their property would not occur for decades, then they would simply be admitting that annexation of their properties should not be allowed at all. As a practical matter, annexation could occur with staff’s ag policy, with component parts being proposed for conditional approval, and a certificate received upon completion of the mitigation for each part. Extending the conditional approval period and expediting renewal of the period should address any remaining concerns.

· Mitigation stacking should be at least discouraged; some kinds of mitigation stacking should never be allowed and it could be appropriate to prohibit stacking entirely. Illusory mitigation, such as would occur by selling Transferable Development Rights on land already covered by conservation easements, should be prohibited. Similarly, stacking any subsequent mitigation easement on land already protected by an easement that achieves much the same goal is illusory and should be prohibited. Stacking easements for biological purposes and for agricultural preservation on the same property could result in conflicting mandates and should be discouraged or prohibited.

· All mitigation funding, including maintenance and enforcement, is the responsibility of the annexation applicants (cities and landowners). Applicants cannot pay less than their full share on the basis that they expect to apply for funding from agencies such as open space authorities. Agency funding to augment the ag mitigation project is a separate discretionary decision that does not reduce the obligations of those converting farmland to other uses.

· While LAFCo does not have authority over County actions that convert farmland to other uses without changing jurisdictional boundaries, it should encourage the County to adopt ag mitigation programs similar to the LAFCo proposal.

· There should be some maximum time limit between collection of in-lieu fees by a conservation entity and land acquisition, at least in cases where in-lieu fees are large enough to finance acquisition in short order.

· Land acquisition must occur within Santa Clara County.

· Acquisition programs should prefer, including giving a price preference, purchasing easements on farms not already physically developed in ways that constrain future types of farming. Permanent greenhouse structures (ones with paved floors) and mushroom-growing buildings are examples of problematic development if they are the dominant use on parcels being considered. Easements that prohibit hardscaping the property over a certain percentage level would be appropriate.

· The buffer concept needs further development. We suggest that buffers may also be farmed in some circumstances, but in ways that minimize potential conflicts with neighbors – maximizing production and profits would not be the first priority. Organic farming, growing hay, and limited working hours would be examples of buffer management that could be appropriate. Because the buffer could not emphasize agriculture and might have to switch to other uses entirely, it should not count as part of the land preserved for agriculture.

· Efforts to exclude lands from designation as “prime agriculture” should be opposed. Staff proposed policies #5 and #8 should not be weakened by efforts to use loopholes such as capping wells and claiming the lack of water means the land is not prime, or removing “prime” designation by landowners simply leaving land fallow for several years.

Staff’s LAFCo policies represent a strong step forward to protecting our County’s heritage. The shame is that this was not done in previous decades. The sprawl now found in the north County could have been a “Silicon Archipelago” of high tech development and housing surrounded by farmland. At least, we can avoid repeating mistaken sprawl in our remaining prime agricultural lands.

Please contact us if you have any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, September 1, 2006

Two Good Decisions!

We have had two very encouraging decisions in the courts this week. First, San Mateo Superior Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman upheld LAFCo and County Elections on their conduct of the protest process for the MROSD (Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District) coastal expansion. And today, the California Supreme Court rejected Big Creek Lumber's petition for a rehearing on their decision to uphold the Santa Cruz and San Mateo County ordinances on timber harvesting.

We all (and especially CGF Board Member April Vargas) can take a great deal of satisfaction in our role with the LAFCo protest process. Without our involvement, the opponents could very well have prevailed.

We have Karen McEwan Johnson and her team at the Orrick law firm to thank for their Amicus brief on behalf of CGF and other environmental groups in that significant decision, which upheld the proposition that although the State has authority over how timber harvesting is conducted, counties may regulate where it can be allowed.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

County enacts viewshed protection in a win for the Measure A Campaign

Yesterday, Santa Clara County enacted improved viewshed protection for hillside development (Agenda Item 66) in the County, limiting the aesthetic impact from new development and giving people incentives to construct smaller, less intrusive homes.

CGF asked for even stronger protections which were not granted, but developers' efforts to weaken the protections also were rejected. Overall, I would describe this both as a significant improvement and a first victory for the Measure A campaign, the Land Conservation Initiative.

Relatively few opponents of the County viewshed proposal tried to kill it, but rather most of them only sought to weaken it. If we had not been bringing our Measure A, there's little doubt that the realtors and developers would have tried to kill viewshed protection entirely. Because they had to act "reasonably", our Measure A campaign defused a great deal of potential opposition to the County's action yesterday.

Our comment letter is reposted below.

August 25, 2006

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

Re: Agenda Item #66, Viewshed Protection

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors

The Committee for Green Foothills continues its ongoing support for improvements to County viewshed protection, which include proposals suggested by County Supervisors for nearly two years. While interest in improving the viewshed protection extends even longer than two years, the Committee was involved in the recent catalyst for this effort, a proposal to place a 25,000 square-foot monster mansion on a hilltop ridgeline. We are very glad to see the effort to improve rules make so much progress.

The Committee generally supports County staff’s viewshed protection proposal. We support the proposal both on its own merit and as something that complements the more general protection we hope to achieve through the Land Conservation Initiative on the fall ballot. We note that Initiative opponents have stated they also support the viewshed process and proposal, and we hope they will not seek to remove the most important portions of the viewshed proposal.

Rather than remove vital parts of the proposal, the Committee seeks to see it strengthened. In particular, we suggest the following:

· House size levels for design review should be better adjusted to reflect the problems that monster mansions pose for viewshed protection. As proposed, a 4,900 square-foot structure would not get Tier 2 review and no incentive in the rules to reduce its size. The 12,500 square-foot limit for Tier 3 is similarly too high to create a significant disincentive. We suggest the transition from Tier 1 to Tier 2 occur at 4,000 square feet, and from Tier 2 to Tier 3 occur at 10,000 square feet.

We understand that staff based the Tier 2 transition on the current typical house of 5,000 square feet in the hillsides, but if the goal is to fix an existing problem, some incentive should be given for people to choose less massive housing. Similarly, the problem of a “monster mansion” arises at a much smaller level than 12,500 square feet, and the tiering system should address that problem through appropriate incentives, including transitioning to Tier 3 at 10,000 square feet.

· The alternative proposals for ridgeline development, General Plan Policies RGD31a through 33a, should be adopted. These proposals achieve what the Board of Supervisors want – get development off of ridgelines unless no other choice presents itself, while protecting private property rights. We strongly encourage the Board to adopt these proposals and direct staff to prepare the appropriate zoning ordinances.

In addition, the Committee recommends that the 18-24 month review period include considering improvements to the proposal that would protect the viewshed for County residents who are not located in the County valley floor. These people also have the right to quality views. In particular, the review should consider the following:

· Extending viewshed protection to areas heavily used by many County residents – Highway 280, Highway 152, Highway 17, and parts of selected County parks.

· Improving lighting control ordinances to decrease light pollution and improve access to night sky views, something the County could do in conjunction with city jurisdictions.

· Review air quality protections to reduce haze in the County.

We applaud the County’s efforts, and look forward to protecting viewsheds. Please contact us with any questions.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Friday, August 25, 2006

Getting sponsorship for "Saving the Bay"

CGF wrote the following short message of support to the Santa Clara Valley Water District, urging them to sponsor the public television special, "Saving the Bay." This program will be a very useful method for public education.


Dear Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Members:

The Committee for Green Foothills urges the District to provide sponsorship support for the public television program, “Saving the Bay”. We believe this program will advance the District’s goals of environmental protection through education, and sponsorship will also give appropriate visibility to the District.

The Committee is also familiar with “Saving the Bay” producer Ron Blatman’s work on other projects, and we expect he will again do an exceptional job. We encourage the District to help bring this program to the viewing public.

Please contact us with any questions.

Brian Schmidt

Santa Clara County Legislative Advocate
Committee for Green Foothills

Monday, August 21, 2006

San Jose Insider discussion of the Land Conservation Initiative

One of the San Jose Insider bloggers posted a great editorial supporting the Land Conservation Initiative, and a spirited discussion is in the comments section.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Coyote Valley fiscal analysis already showing flaws

As we reported a while back, San Jose expects to make money off of Coyote Valley development only because it expects housing prices to increase exponentially faster than income, every year for sixty years. We think this reasoning is flawed, and the problems are already showing.

The National Association of Realtors just released its national report on the housing market, and we can check San Jose's assumptions against what is actually happening. San Jose expected housing to increase 3% above inflation, so with inflation at 4%-5%, San Jose is counting on a 7%-8% increase in housing prices. The Excel spreadsheets at the Realtors' site show 0.4% increase for single family homes in the greater San Jose area, and 4% for condos in the San Francisco area.

San Jose's estimates are already off by 5% or more, according to these figures. More importantly, they demonstrate the flaw in San Jose's method of projecting unsustainable trends as something that will last forever.


UPDATE, 8/17: Figures from a different source for all of Santa Clara County show a 7% rise, which just barely keeps up with San Jose's projections (although the decline in sales volume may indicate problems). There's a difference in geographic area and time period, but the range betweeen 0.4% and 7% is so large that I suspect something is wrong with at least one of these estimates.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Toxic explosion in East Palo Alto has uncertain effect on the Baylands

(Guest posting by CGF volunteer Annie Ryan.)

On June 5th of this year, a four-thousand gallon mixture of volatile and­­ semi-volatile organic compounds exploded inside a tanker truck at the East Palo Alto Romic toxic waste facilities, and subsequently escaped from the tanker into the air (the press release avoided the word “exploded” and said “reacted chemically” instead). A mist spread over the Bay Road complex, nearby homes, and the immediately adjacent Bayland marshes before coating the ground, leaving buildings, roads, and wetland plants covered in a residue of sticky black dots. Immediately following the spill, nearby residents were warned to stay inside their homes pending a further investigation into the cause and severity of the spill. Following the incident, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report outlining their initial findings regarding the nature of the spill, and what steps they were taking to ensure the safety of the nearby citizens and wildlife.

The report claims “the release of the VOCs had no effect on nearby neighborhoods or residents due to the fact that the chemicals dissipated so quickly into the air”, and that the sticky, black residue left on the road and plants “is not likely to be harmful unless one comes into direct contact with the material”. Any long term effect on the marshland was unknown at the time of the report, but biologists were expected to release results within the end of the week. (week of June 12th).

Nearly eight weeks later, the overall impact that the chemical spill had on surrounding East Palo Alto neighborhoods and marshlands is still largely a mystery. The EPA states that the tanker was carrying semi-volatile and volatile compounds, however according to Greg Baker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there is still no definitive list of every compound in the tanker at the time of the spill. According to Baker, the biologists’ primary focus has been determining where the released spray passed over and if any damages to plant or animal life occurred. Back in June biologists explored the marshes looking for any signs of impact such as dead fish or birds, and used an imaging fly-over technique to get aerial views of the affected marshlands, and determine to what degree the area had been affected. Biologists could find no signs of environmental distress or a lack of photosynthetic activity. In August a second round of fly-over imaging will be used to see if any previously undetected impacts arise.

This incident is not the first time Romic has threatened the health and safety of residents and the marshland. In 1995 Romic mistakenly released cyanide into the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment Plant, and in 2005 Romic paid the state of California $849,500 to settle 53 safety violations, accumulated over the last 7 years.

Romic’s presence has caught the attention of the East Palo Alto activist group Youth United for Community Action or YUCA. Over the last few years YUCA has worked to raise awareness of the harmful effect Romic has on the community. Roger Madrid, a co-member of the group believes that Romic has no place in his community, “they handle chemicals that are known to cause cancer and asthma” and “we want them to leave”.

It is troubling that while the EPA has released a statement assuring the community that the people, plants, and animals within the vicinity of the Romic spill were not harmed, it is still unknown what was in the tanker that spilled. Furthermore, EPA has not addressed the possibility of long term effects that the released chemicals could have on the community and wildlife. The Romic toxic facility has a controversial history, located in an economically disadvantaged, ethnic minority community while receiving, storing, and processing toxic waste generated elsewhere. The facility’s presence immediately next to the Baylands raises both environmental concerns and community economic development concerns for why the facility should occupy a prominent Bayfront property. These concerns are longstanding, and Committee for Green Foothills will continue to monitor the natural resource protection issues that result in this area.

-Annie Ryan

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Counties' right to regulate logging

Several weeks ago, the California Supreme Court issued fairly broad protection to counties attempting to regulate logging in their jurisdiction. It had been unclear whether state law superceded the normal right of local agencies to regulate land use. With additional clarity, there may now be reason and ability for counties in our area to restrict harmful logging practices.

The Supreme Court decision is here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

NBC11 video on Los Gatos Creek logging proposal

NBC11 did a short news report on a thousand-acre logging proposal in the Los Gatos Creek watershed that deeply concerns CGF. The news report is here, and our writeup of the problem is here.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Stanford Trails

Below is a Letter to the Editor we sent in to the Mercury News and Palo Alto Weekly about Stanford University's recent announcement they are halting work on the Page Mill/S1 Trail.

-- Holly Van Houten, Executive Director

Dear Editor,

As the former director of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council, it was my great pleasure to attend Wednesday’s night of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District where a trail connecting Los Trancos Open Space Preserve to Palo Alto’s Foothills Park was approved. Together with the trail opened last fall linking Foothills Park to the Pearson – Arastradero Park, this new connection will create a significant piece of a long sought after regional trail linking the San Francisco Bay Trail to the Bay Area Ridge Trail when it is built later this year.

By way of contrast, Wednesday’s paper carried Stanford University’s announcement of stopping work on the Page Mill/S1 Trail (“Campus halts work on trail”) due to a lawsuit filed by my new organization, the Committee for Green Foothills. This is an unfortunate and totally unnecessary action that denies the community access to a trail they have been owed for 5 years, ever since Stanford got approval to add 5 million square feet of new facilities.

Our lawsuit addresses only the northern trail known as the C1 trail, a project that was included at the last minute without considering alternative alignments, studying environmental impacts, or considering the public’s comment. Our lawsuit simply asks Santa Clara County and Stanford University to follow the environmental laws on this trail. We’re asking for them to exercise good governance.

Even better if Stanford would decide to be a good neighbor. The University has the opportunity to participate in creating a great regional trail system linking the popular dish trails up to the City’s Arastradero park, providing the needed link in the Bay-Ridge trail connection, but that isn’t the choice they’ve made. It is time to do the right thing, follow the law, and create real recreational trails that will benefit Stanford and its neighbors.


Holly Van Houten

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Open Space Initiative and Letter to Mountain View

CGF sent out an Action Alert this week asking people to check out the website for the Open Space Initiative and to encourage Mountain View City Council to endorse the Initiative. Unfortunately, the City didn't make a decision this week after all, but we hope they'll endorse it in the near future.

Below is a short letter we sent in support of endorsement.


June 26, 2006

Mountain View City Council

Re: Item 4.17 on City Council Agenda - support for Land Conservation Initiative Resolution

Dear Members of the Mountain View City Council;

The Committee for Green Foothills and the other major conservation organizations in Santa Clara County have worked for over three years to improve the Santa Clara County General Plan through the Land Conservation Initiative, coming to a vote this November. We urge the City Council to endorse the Initiative as something that will improve the quality of life for all County residents, including Mountain View residents.

The Initiative will only affect unincorporated County land designated as Ranchlands, Hillsides, and Large-scale Agriculture. It will not affect city jurisdiction or the County lands bordering the north and east of Mountain View. Generally, it will limit rural subdivisions to levels similar to other Bay Area Counties, like Alameda and San Mateo Counties. It will keep development off ridgelines, protect our streams from inappropriate development, and preserve threatened wildlife. It does not apply to cities or to more developed rural areas. The Initiative preserves the areas in Santa Clara County that still retain the strongest rural character.

Just as Mountain View would participate in amending the County General Plan on other occasions, the City has every right and obligation to ensure that the quality of life in the County remains protected. Fighting sprawl outside City limits will also have important effects on air quality, water quality, and views experienced from within Mountain View.

Again, we urge you to support the Initiative, and we would be happy to answer any questions about it.


Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CGF is suing Stanford over reneging on its environmental promises

Well, this has been in the works ever since last December, when Stanford and Santa Clara County took an action we described as "Disappointing, bad policy, and illegal." Instead of a promised trail to make up for Stanford's environmental impacts, the university pushed an expanded sidewalk in a different county that causes environmental impacts instead of making up for them. We've sued to stop that from happening.

Our press release is here.

Palo Alto Weekly's coverage is here.

The Mercury News coverage is here.

We'll be sure to keep you updated.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

11,000-acre ranch protected along south Santa Clara County

(Below is a guest posting by CGF Summer Intern Annie Ryan.)

On June 14th, Los Gatos-based Gabilan Ranch owners announced the sale of development rights to the Nature Conservancy for the "stunning" 11,190-acre ranch, located just south of the Santa Clara-San Benito boundary. In one of the largest land preservation arrangements ever to be completed in Northern California history, the deal ensures that the ranch will never be subject to any kind of development, even if the current owners decide to sell.

While just outside of CGF’s area of work in Santa Clara County, the ranch will contribute to maintaining a wildlife corridor shared by the County that extends from the Coast to the Central Valley. In addition, the selling of development rights has become increasingly popular among western ranchers afraid of losing their land to urban sprawl. Once the possibility of future development on a ranch is diminished, property taxes drop dramatically, making it more feasible for the land to stay family owned.

Click here to learn more about the land’s value and history.

-Annie Ryan

Monday, June 12, 2006

Master Comment letter on Coyote Valley Fiscal Analysis

CGF sent the additional letter below, following up on many previous comments on the Coyote Valley fiscal analysis. We sure hope that it gets a thoughtful response by the city.

June 6, 2006

Coyote Valley Specific Plan Task Force

Re: Master Comment Letter on Draft Fiscal Analysis for Coyote Valley

Dear Members of the CVSP Task Force:

Per the request by City staff for comments, the Committee for Green Foothills submits the following response that collect our previous concerns together, along with additional comments on the Draft Fiscal Analysis for Coyote Valley. We note that at the Technical Advisory Committee, staff and consultants appeared to support the CGF’s suggestion that a Final Report include any revisions made over time and include a Comments and Responses Section similar to that done in a Final EIR. We hope this will still happen.

Additional comments follow:

Consultant and staff response so far to CGF criticisms: the most important CGF criticism of the Draft Analysis finds the Draft’s assumption that housing costs can escalate 3% above inflation annually for 60 years, when household income increases much more slowly (less than 1% according to 1990s data), to be fatally flawed. The Draft concludes that a fiscal surplus will occur only because of this massive increase in property tax revenues, but that extent of increase will not happen. Instead, we believe it is not possible for housing costs to increase much in relation to household income, and that the Report should be revised accordingly.

The City’s consultants had two responses so far: first, the 3% figure is a conservative match for increases over the last 30 years, so it is appropriate to use the same figure for the next 60 years; and second, while an ever-smaller percentage of families could afford to purchase homes over time, that smaller percentage could still push the market price ever higher.

We consider these responses to be inadequate. First, the past rate of price increases is irrelevant when encountering a new factor – in this case, the cost of housing increasing to more than 33% of median household income. We believe the past trend is unsustainable, and an unsustainable trend cannot be maintained forever. The Draft Report contains no analysis of whether that past trend can be sustained; it just assumes the trend can last.

Regarding whether a smaller percentage of potential buyers can maintain the constant real rate of increase in housing prices, it would be useful to view the incomes of people potentially interested in buying residences in Coyote as a normal distribution/bell curve, where the largest numbers of people have mid level incomes, while smaller numbers have high incomes or low incomes. See Figure A, attached, for illustrative purposes (y-axis is the number of people/buyers, x-axis is their income level (the numbers on the x-axis are arbitrary here)). The vertical line intersecting the apex of the curve could help delineate the current potential market of buyers. San Jose staff have stated the average household spends 33% of income on housing, and banks are unlikely to give mortgages to people where payments would be much larger than that percentage. At current ratios of housing to income, then, potential buyers are the sum of the area under the bell curve and to the right of the vertical line.

The effect of increasing housing prices faster than income is to shift the vertical line further to the right, decreasing the number of potential buyers. And because the largest numbers of buyers in the bell curve are at the lowest income levels still to the right of the existing vertical line, moving that vertical line even slightly to the right will result in a disproportionately large reduction of buyers. Finally, the Draft Report implies a very large rightward shift in that vertical line to the right. All the above indicates a large decrease in the number of potential buyers given the Draft Report assumptions, but the Draft still concludes that prices will increase at the same rate as it did with a larger pool of buyers.

What the Committee for Green Foothills cannot do is quantify these numbers, but the City’s economic experts can. They should quantify how much the market will decrease given the relative changes in income and housing assumed in the Draft Report, and this would give a much better idea as to whether the housing prices can continue to climb at such an incremental rate.

Related housing price comments:

CVSP Task Force Member Craige Edgerton pointed out that Bay Area housing price increases don’t occur in a vacuum. When Craige moved to this area, housing cost twice as much as it did in Texas, and now it costs five times as much. This is another example of an unsustainable trend that the Draft Report may be assuming will continue for 60 years. City consultants should examine what is expected to happen in the national housing market – if that market is not also expected to increase at 3% above inflation, there should be an acknowledgement of that in an “Unrealistic Assumptions” disclaimer to the Final Report.

Craige also pointed out that even if the 3% figure is accurate, it could result in wrong projections if done at the height of a bull market. See Figure B, attached, as an example of how this could happen using an upward trending sine wave. The x-axis is time, and the y-axis is housing prices (absolute numbers on the axes are irrelevant for these purposes). The sine wave represents the up and down swings of the market, while the overall upward linear trend represents a gradual increase over time, which the City argues will average out to 3% or better. Craige’s point is that the 3% trend line could be drawn as tangent connecting the troughs of each curve, as a line bisecting the middle of all the curves, or as a tangent connecting the peaks of each curve. The most accurate starting point for extending the 3% trend line, in order to determine what future prices will be, would be from the middle. That does not appear to be what the Draft Report does, because the present position is much more likely to be at the peak, with an extended housing boom and what many are labeling a housing bubble in San Jose. To fix this, even if the City believes the 3% real rate is sustainable, it should begin its valuation with a partial correction (decrease in housing prices) factored in.

At a City Council Study Session, Councilmember Forrest Williams and City consultants referred to the Draft Report as intended to be conservative. To assist this goal of making conservative assumptions, we suggest the following: Assume at the beginning of the project that housing prices will drop the same extent as the greater of the last two drops in housing prices, which we understand to have occurred in the early 1990s and 1980s. Further assume that prices will for the next few years increase no faster than the worse-performing of the two subsequent recoveries, and increases will stay low as long as the slowest recovery took. Finally, assume prices will then increase no faster than the rate of median household income increase for the projected duration of the project. The Committee assumed household income would increase 1% based on 1990s data, but that may be overoptimistic, and City consultants may have better long-term data. The Final Report could include the above as an Alternative Assumptions that could be use for fiscal projections for the various scenarios.

Other comments:

The underestimate of affordable housing resulted in an overestimate of revenue. Twenty percent of 26,660 housing units in Coyote (the last number we’ve heard) is 5,312, not 5,000. This means that in all scenarios, 312 units were inaccurately counted as market rate units generating substantial property tax revenues, instead of affordable units generating little or no tax revenue. This error should be corrected.

Initial sale prices of affordable for-sale housing cannot be increased at the 3% real rate between the present and whenever the housing is constructed. When this question was asked at a Task Force meeting, consultants misunderstood it as a question about control of resale prices. The real issue is what value and property tax revenues the Draft Report assigns to affordable for-sale housing constructed say, 20 years from now. If it takes current affordable housing prices, and projects those prices to increase at a 3% real rate for 20 years, then any pretense that these future homes will actually be affordable is thrown out the window. Instead, the housing prices should be calculate based on expected income levels at the time of construction.

As mentioned in our earlier comments and reiterated here, none of the five scenarios included the most environmental of the action scenarios that we have discussed in the last year – retain the current triggers, and add some form of phased 2:1 jobs:housing concurrence thereafter. This would keep the advantage the current triggers have of prioritizing in-City development first, while avoiding an “open floodgates” problem with current triggers – after 5,000 jobs arrive, housing development can far outpace jobs development. We recommend that this scenario be added to the Final Report.

Also as mentioned earlier, all the concurrency scenarios have a “cannibalism” problem that has not been addressed in the Draft Report or anywhere else. The 2:1 ratios create a potential incentive whereby Coyote developers will offer cut-rate prices to business to relocate there away from central San Jose, because those developers will then make large amounts of money off the 2:1 right to construct housing that was created when the jobs moved. San Jose needs to address this problem in multiple contexts, but it could start in the Draft Report by reducing tax revenues to reflect cannibalized business tax revenues stolen away from central San Jose.[1]

This letter incorporates and requests responses to previous oral and written comments from the Committee for Green Foothills, especially the April 24th and May 8th letters and attachments, and the Excel spreadsheet distributed at the last Technical Advisory Committee. If City staff have trouble locating these items, we can provide copies.

Finally, there is one idea that could fix ALL the criticisms we have of the Draft Report. Following up on an idea from the Sierra Club, the Final Report should explore making the Community Financial Districts a permanent means to make up the budgetary shortfalls from Coyote Valley, as opposed to a temporary means used only in the project’s initial years. If 20 years from now it turns out that Coyote is actually withdrawing more revenue than it brings in, the CFDs can rectify that situation with some kind of property assessment, maybe as a smoothed-average over several years to avoid dramatic assessment changes. Coyote Valley developers will presumably have no problem with this idea, as they are quite confident that after ten-plus years, Coyote will always deliver a fiscal surplus to the City. In that case, the CFD need never draw funds from Coyote Valley landowners. As it is, an uncertain level of risk remains that Coyote will not benefit the City. If Coyote Valley developers continue to assert that the risk is zero, then they should have no problem with it being transferred from the City to them.

Please contact us if you have any questions.

Brian A. Schmidt
Legislative Advocate, Santa Clara County

[1] A partial fix of the cannibalism problem would be to use large concurrency increments – say after each 5,000 new jobs, 2,500 residences can be built. This would substantially reduce the incentive to relocate jobs from Central San Jose, and could be used appropriately for the environmental scenario outlined above.

Figure A:

Figure B: